Safe or Surprise Draft: AFC East
As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, we're laying out both the safest and riskiest route that teams might take with their first selection. Read them all.
First pick: Round 1, No. 8 overall
The Safe Route: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma.
The real conundrum for the Bills will arise if Geno Smith remains on the board at No. 8. Yes, Buffalo just signed Kevin Kolb to a two-year deal, but Kolb hardly represents the unquestioned future of the QB position. Playing in a conference that features, among others, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger, the Bills need a clear top quarterback.
But if Smith is gone, the Bills are comfortable with Kolb or they opt to wait until Round 2 or 3 for a QB (Ryan Nassib?), then Johnson could step into the limelight. He's not all that far behind Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher in the OT pecking order. His arrival also would allow the Bills to slide Cordy Glenn inside to a guard spot, shoring up the line's interior after the departure of Andy Levitre.
A lot of other potential picks here would stand as reaches. Johnson, with a ceiling that he continues to reset higher and higher, is an exception.
The Surprise: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas.
Is safety the Bills' most pressing need right now? Probably not. The Bills, however, currently are using the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd (meaning it's possible he leaves before 2013) and will try to make Da'Norris Searcy a starter after losing George Wilson in free agency.
Vaccaro probably could step in and start over Searcy; at the very least, he'd add a versatile weapon for a thin group.
First pick: Round 1, No. 12 overall
The Safe Route: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina.
That offensive linemen represent the "safe" move for three of four AFC East teams shows a couple of things: 1. That this draft, while shy on elite skill-position players, has terrific depth at tackle and guard; and 2. The O-lines in this division need some work.
For Miami, a pick of Cooper would mark the third time in three years this franchise has spent a high selection on a lineman (Mike Pouncey, Round 1 in 2011; Jonathan Martin, Round 2 in 2012). But Richie Incognito, despite a solid 2012, is not an ideal fit for Joe Philbin's zone-blocking scheme, and the Dolphins just signed Lance Louis on a one-year deal to replace John Jerry.
The athletic Cooper could make Incognito (and his $4 million salary) expendable or push Louis on the right. Either way, he'd help.
The Surprise: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri.
The Dolphins have Paul Soliai at one tackle spot in their 4-3 and Randy Starks at the other. So where's the need for Richardson? Well, aside from depth in the immediate future, it could come in 2013 -- both Soliai and the franchise-tagged Starks are set to be unrestricted free agents next summer.
Richardson's an explosive player up front but is in need of some seasoning. The Dolphins' situation, then, might provide him the perfect blend of playing time and coaching.
New England Patriots
First pick: Round 1, No. 29 overall
The Safe Route: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State.
The Patriots already had a need at corner before Alfonzo Dennard was convicted in February of assaulting a police officer. Now, New England faces the possibility of opening 2013 with the mercurial Aqib Talib at one CB spot and a mix-and-match grouping at the other.
So, naturally, most people are expecting the Patriots to address that issue at No. 29 overall (or, perhaps more likely, to trade down to acquire more picks). The athletic Taylor, who ran a 4.39 40 at the combine, would fit the Patriots' bill. So, too, would Desmond Trufant, if he somehow falls this far.
The Surprise: Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech.
This is not quite an off-the-wall shocker, but if the Patriots stay put at 29 and decide to wait on a cornerback, the backup routes appear to be minimal. Unless the aforementioned Cooper somehow slips to New England's position, an offensive linemen likely won't be the pick here. Odds are that the Patriots won't look at QB, RB, TE or LB, either.
Which brings us to Patton, who quickly could develop into a reliable option for Tom Brady. Patton finds ways to get open and add yards after the catch. Outside of Danny Amendola, the Patriots do not really have any other receivers capable of doing those things.
New York Jets
First pick: Round 1, No. 9 overall
The Safe Route: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama.
One look at the Jets' depth chart explains this pick. If the season started today, New York would trot Willie Colon and Vladimir Ducasse out as its starting guards, with 2012 starters Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson now on different rosters.
The 29-year-old Colon (feels like he's a lot older, doesn't it?) should hold his own, so long as his knees hold up. He's on just a one-year deal, though, and the jury is still very much out on Ducasse's ability to plug the interior.
Warmack would ease the Jets' worries inside -- he has the potential to be a Pro Bowl linemen for years in the NFL.
The Surprise: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia.
Obviously, this is contingent on no one in the top eight nabbing Smith. In the event that occurs, might the Jets (who reportedly have grown very keen to Smith) pounce? It almost goes without saying that New York does not feel comfortable with Mark Sanchez as the starter, nor does oft-injured 35-year-old David Garrard stand as much of a long-term solution. The Jets will have to address their QB position again soon ... maybe even on April 25.